I think history teachers have a responsibility to prepare students to comment critically and participate critically in the discourse about who we are honoring, who we are celebrating, and how we are doing it.
Every fall in recent memory has reignited the ongoing handwringing about the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World, and the legacy his "discovery" left us. Native American activist groups, among others, see Columbus as a European colonizer who set in motion the genocide of an entire people.
As these texts have become popular, and more history teachers have read them, more students have learned a more accurate account of Columbus from a younger age.
Personally, I don’t think we should celebrate Columbus Day.
The Zinn Education Project also includes a bunch of primary sources related to Columbus, such as writings by Bartolomé de La Casas.
These books have fueled the trends I mentioned around Columbus Day. has celebrated the second Monday of October as a federal holiday, an "annual reaffirmation by the American people of their faith in the future, a declaration of willingness to face with confidence the imponderables of unknown tomorrows," according to a Senate report from the year Congress made Columbus Day a federal affair.But the reasons we still have a holiday in his name are pretty straightforward.(Celebrations in Los Angeles honoring Christopher Columbus were happening as far back as 1932, according to news reports at the time.) Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law in 1968, establishing the three-day weekend for some federal holidays and adding Columbus Day as an official public holiday. Since then, efforts to eliminate or rename the Columbus Day holiday in various states and cities have met strong resistance from Italian Americans, who have said Columbus is an important figure in their heritage and calling such efforts “anti-Italian American.” In 2002, the Los Angeles City Council voted to allow city employees to take Cesar Chavez Day as a paid holiday instead of Columbus Day, a move that prompted a slew of prominent Italian Americans, including former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, to send a strongly worded letter to city officials.As a compromise, the council allowed city employees to celebrate either holiday. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated the Columbus Day state holiday as part of a budget-cutting measure in 2009, Los Angeles city and county offices still observe it.Turning points are powerful lenses through which students need to view our past. We don’t want to expose young kids to graphic accounts of brutal treatment of Native Americans, but I think you want them to begin to question: What did this person do? Based on my experience, I think it’s vitally essential that teachers engage kids as young as sixth grade in questions that really interrogate Columbus.Students need to grapple with these multiple perspectives in history and the not-so-pleasant aspects of our past. I want to make sure we do justice to indigenous folks.” We’re facing similar questions about how we commemorate the confederacy and the Civil War.Historical knowledge can help students create an argument to answer those questions.As a citizen, you need to be able to critically engage and reflect in a discourse around the public celebration and honoring of historical events and figures. You need to be able to deeply understand the profoundly problematic past of this great nation.